In an unexpected development, the Russian General Staff announced on Wednesday that it has withdrawn almost half of its air grouping originally based at the Hmeymim facility in Syria. Cited by Sputnik, the chief of the Main Operational Directorate Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi said at the VI Moscow Conference on International Security that "the number of terrorist units has decreased, which allowed us to withdraw almost half of the aircraft based at the Hmeymim airbase."
Rudskoi said that the Russian air group never exceeded 35 aircraft between November 10, 2016 and January 10, 2017. He also said that Russia is operating about 80 drones in Syria, and stressed that an analysis has shown that the Russian Aerospace Forces have conducted four times more airstrikes than the US-led coalition despite having fewer aircraft.
"Comparative analysis of the results of activities by Russian aircraft and the international coalition's aircraft in Syria shows that having far fewer aircraft, the Russian Aerospace Forces carried out three times more combat sorties and made four times more missile and bomb strikes," Rudskoi said.
Since September 2015, the Russian Aerospace Forces have carried out constant airstrikes in Syria targeting terrorist positions at the request of Syrian President Bashar Assad. In March 2016, the biggest part of Russian air forces left Syria in line with the decision of Russian President Vladimir Putin, following successful task fulfillment.
Predictably, there was no discussion if the recent air strike by the US was a factor in the decision to repatriate half of the Russian air support from Syria, neither was there a comment on whether the recent report by Iran's FARS that Russia was considering deploying ground troops to Syria was accurate.